Motivation and emotion/Book/2020/Implicit motives

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Implicit motives:
What are implicit motives and how do they work?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Associated areas explored within implicit motives.

If you have ever started eating something near you without thinking about it, or felt a deep need to see a friend, you have experienced implicit motives. Implicit motives follow everyone and can drive us to make decisions and act in certain ways. The focus of this chapter is to explain what implicit motives are and how they function in everyday life. Implicit motives operate outside of conscious awareness and are based on effective rewards and punishments that incentivise and drive a person (Schultheiss & Köllner, 2014).

Implicit motives can include the need or desire for power, affiliation-intimacy, and achievement, some of which can be seen in Figure 1. Current evidence suggests that implicit motives are generally universal across cultures as they contain these innate needs (Hofer & Chasiotis, 2011). Through specific motivation theories and applicable research, the cultural and social significance of implicit motives is explained. McClelland's (year?) Theory of Needs and the Self Determination Theory (year?) are discussed to provide various theoretical views of the implicit and intrinsic motivations of a person. It has also been identified that there are multiple factors that can contribute to an individual's implicit motives outside of the universal concepts discussed, such as physiological needs. It is suggested that these stem from a person's social, developmental or cognitive situations, experiences and upbringings (McClelland et al., 1989).

Types of motivations[edit | edit source]

Generally, there are two categories of motivations; implicit and explicit. Implicit motives are not conscious, they focus on what drives a person below the surface. In contrast, explicit motives are triggered by the outside world and stimuli the person experiences (Schultheiss & Brunstein, 1999). Both implicit and explicit motives can be influenced by rewards, punishments, and an internal drive (Schultheiss & Brunstein, 1999). However, these two motives differ through the state of consciousness and where the motivation stems from. Explicit motivation is in the conscious mind, such as goal setting and self-regulation, whereas implicit motives are within the unconscious mind such as a need for power or to socialise with others (Ferguson, 2008).

While Freud's psychodynamic therapy has been widely critiqued, psychoanalysis paved the way for research into the conscious and unconscious mind (Schüler et al., 2018). There are three levels of consciousness (unconscious, preconscious, conscious). And while the goal of psychoanalysis might have been to bring the unconscious to the conscious, this was with memories and thoughts, not motivations (Westen, 1999). Psychoanalysis laid much of the groundwork for more valid and reliable research to be built on the different states of conscious awareness (Schüler et al., 2018).

Implicit moves should not be considered the opposite of explicit motives but rather as quite different due to the state of consciousness in which these motivations come from (Schüler et al., 2018; Schultheiss & Brunstein, 1999).

Quiz questions

1 What level of consciousness are implicit motives?


2 What is not a similarity between implicit and explicit motives

The drive a person has influences the degree to which motivation is felt and completed
Can be influenced by rewards and punishments
Level of consciousness

Social, cognitive and developmental influences[edit | edit source]

There are three general categories of non-universal personal influences that drive implicit motives (Denzingger & Brandstätter, 2018). While psychological and psychological needs may be universal and similar in degrees across cultures; social, cognitive and developmental factors can be unique to the individual (Schüler et al., 2018; Schüler et al., 2013).

Social[edit | edit source]

Social influence can be determined by social roles one performs, expectations of self, some experiences with colleges friends and family (Denzingger & Brandstätter, 2018; Schüler et al., 2018).


  • Social roles
    • For example, new parents may have different implicit needs[explain?]
    • Adopting a role and enacting attributes associated with that role
    • Often experience reinforcement for when enacting socially acceptable roles
  • Expectations of self
    • We have several unconscious goals and perceptions of self
    • We act in different ways according to the situations and how see what is acceptable
    • How a person views themself can drive them without conscious awareness
  • Experiences with others
    • Friends and family can shape our values and who we become
    • People can nature our wellbeing

Cognitive[edit | edit source]

Learning, memory, emotional state all contribute to a person's implicit motives (Denzingger & Brandstätter, 2018; Schüler et al., 2018).


  • Learning
    • Early learnt experiences such as riding a bike are easy to recall, this also relates to most things that are learnt when young including motivations
    • Implicit motives can also change over time due to new learning experiences
    • Emotional learning can drive implicit motives in several social situations
  • Memory
    • Attention, encoding, and rehearsal to the retrieval of similar situations and events can impact how we can respond to a situation we are currently in
    • Memory can influence how we see the world, and what our place in the world is
    • Implicit motives can work in the background of our conscious and can be driven by memory, such as looking both ways to cross the street
  • Emotional state
    • Positive or negative emotions can influence a person's implicit motives in a particular moment
    • For example, people who are feeling anxious can often snack on sweet food with what seems to be little control

Developmental[edit | edit source]

Our childhood has a foundational influence in who we are and hence influences our implicit motives and drives. Values, personality characteristics and important life events shape us (Denzingger & Brandstätter, 2018; Schüler et al. 2018).


  • Values
    • Generally, our values are formed in childhood and are carried with us throughout adulthood
    • These values shape who we are and how we perceive certain situations
    • Our values can drive us and can be strongly associate with implicit motives
  • Life events
    • Important life events such as loss of a close relative or having a younger sibling being born shape who we are, and how we cope
    • If at a time of tragedy in our past we close our selves off, it is reasonable to say we will continue to use this as a coping mechanism in the present
  • Personality characteristics
    • Our personality arguably forms in the developmental stage of life when we are trying to figure out who we are
    • With this our implicit motives can also be shaped, for example how much we desire power or need affiliation etc.

Quiz questions[edit | edit source]

1 What type of influence is remembering how to sign your name?


2 What two influences could be riding a bike.

Social and developmental
Social and cognitive
Cognitive and developmental

Motivational theories[edit | edit source]

The concept of implicit motives is very theory rich. While the amount of research is somewhat slim in this area, the amount of theories consulting implicit motives is ever growing. McClelland's Theory of Needs and Self Determination Theory are the two foremost theories which not only define implicit motives but also three major concepts.

McClelland's theory of needs[edit | edit source]

McClelland's theory builds upon the work of Maslow who created a hierarchy of needs in the early 1940s (Royle & Hall, 2012). This placed basic needs in order of their importance: physiological needs, safety needs, and the need for belonging, self-esteem and "self-actualization". In 1961 David McClelland had his book published, 'The Achieving Society', in which he identified three motivators that he hypothesised we all have regardless of gender, culture and age (Royle & Hall, 2012).

This theory is often used to manage teams by understanding personality trait and strengths. This can be by delegating tasks to particular people based on traits or placing people in a career based on these traits.

These needs include a need for achievement (nAch), affiliation (nAff), and power (nPow). He also posited that people have a dominant motivator and personality characteristics that stem from this (Schultheiss & Köllner, 2014). This dominant motivator may be developed from our culture and life experiences as the motivator factors are learned (Royle & Hall, 2012). The personality traits that stem from each dominant factor are (Schultheiss & Köllner, 2014);

Personality traits from the dominant factor
  1. Achievement
    • A need to set and accomplish goals
    • Likes feedback
    • Often works alone
    • Takes calculated risks
  2. Affiliation
    • Needs to belong to a group
    • Craves to be liked
    • Prefers collaboration over competition
    • Does not like taking risks
  3. Power
    • Likes to win
    • Competitive
    • Wants to control or influence others
    • Enjoys status and recognition of work

A need for achievement is as the name suggests; is a need to achieve a goal. People with a strong achievement trait have an urge to reach a goal and desire to excel. These people avoid low reward based tasks and low risk situations. High achieving people want the rewards to feel real, so low risk is too dis-in-genuine[say what?] in their eyes. Also these people can be hesitant in high risk situations, in case the outcome becomes luck based. These people enjoy receiving feedback, often work alone and take calculated decisions.[factual?]

A need for affiliation is the desire that people need in social relationships with others or a set group of people. These people are attracted by working with others and creating lasting friendships. People with a high affiliation trait enjoy collaboration and avoid high risk or uncertainty. There is a strong desire to maintain relationships and to be loved and accepted. People with high affiliation tendencies tend to follow group norms and blend in as to not disrupt the culture or out of fear of rejection.[factual?]

Finally, people with a strong need for power have a desire to control, have authority over, and influence others. They have a desire for high self esteem and a great reputation. These people are strong leaders and love leadership positions. There are two subcategories of personal or institutional power motivators. Personal power motivators is having a need to influence or control others, and institutional power refers to a desire to lead and coordinate a team.[factual?]

Self-determination theory[edit | edit source]

Self-determination theory (SDT) is focused on how motivation and personality are related to inherent growth tendencies and psychological needs (Gagńe & Deci, 2005). The choice people make with no outside influence, and the degree in which a person's actions is self-motivated and determined (Deci et al., 1994)[Rewrite to improve clarity]. This theory began in the 1970s, expanding upon the many studies comparing extrinsic and intrinsic motives, emphasising a large importance[awkward expression?] on intrinsic motives in an individual's behaviour (Deci et al., 1994). In the 1980s, this Self Determination was formally published and accepted as a valid theory and has only grown since (Gagńe & Deci, 2005).

This theory refers to intrinsic/implicit motivation, defining SDT as an "internal motive that drives a person in beginning or completing an activity due to it being interesting or satisfying in itself" (Gagńe & Deci, 2005). Extrinsic motivation involves a particular goal or reward (Ferguson, 2008). SDT proposes a spectrum between intrinsic and extrinsic to the degree in which an activity is internalised, meaning that this is not black and white and many activities come from a somewhat centred place (Deci et al., 1994).

SDT was later expanded upon to include three main intrinsic needs for true self-determination (Gagńe & Deci, 2005). These needs are proposed as being innate and universal, and essential for the health and wellbeing of an individual. These intrinsic needs are (Gagńe & Deci, 2005);

Self Determination Intrinsic Needs
  1. Autonomy
    • Desire to take control of own life
    • Being a fully functioning person and in unity for own thoughts, emotions and actions
    • Does not mean independent of others
  2. Competence
    • Desire for control over outcomes
    • Will to experience mastery in actions
  3. Relatedness
    • Desire to interact and be connected with others
    • Experience compassion and empathy for others

Common implicit motives[edit | edit source]

While achievement, affiliation and power from McClelland's Theory of Needs, and autonomy, competence and relatedness from the Self Determination Theory, are important implicit motives there are many more which need to be discussed. There are also emotions, psychological needs, physiological needs, and personality traits which drive implicit motives (Gawel, 1996; Schultheiss & Köllner, 2014).

A person's emotions can influence their implicit motives in a moment, as strong emotions can influence an attitude and desire. Emotions can influence cravings and reduce inhibitions (Ball et al., 2014). Some people when in a depressed state crave carbohydrate-dense foods or when joyful might be more likely to go outside or exercise. And while an emotion in itself is not a motivation, it can be a strong driving point (Ball et al., 2014).

Safety needs is an implicit motivation which was identified and analysed in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as the second stage of fulfilment (Gawel, 1996). It is proposed that a drive for employment, security, health, and property lies deep within all of us. While these motivations may sometimes be conscious decisions, often they are not and our mind is working constantly to keep us protected and safe (Ball et al., 2014).

Physiological needs such as going to the bathroom and eating are the most basic implicit motives (Gawel, 1996). Breathing and sleeping are often not conscious decisions however are innate and occur frequently through a lifespan (Ball et al., 2014).

Personality traits including self-esteem and perception of self are fundamental in how to start and complete activities (Gawel, 1996). A desire to be respected by others and self and drive many decisions. This can be referred to as a conscience or who we are and what we owe to others.

Cultural impact and differences[edit | edit source]

Different cultures have many different values, thus meaning explicit motives such as goal setting can vary greatly (Hofer & Chasiotis, 2011). Some cultures have a higher value on creating a family, or getting a job, or supporting parents, etc (Denzingger & Brandstätter, 2018). From this many peoples, goals and self-regulation are unique or shared by their culture, however, implicit motives are almost universal (Furguson, 2008).

In recent years substantial progress in cross-cultural studies for implicit motives. This research has come to find universal and culture-specific various implicit motives for mental process and behaviour. One study reached the conclusion that implicit motives are the first motivational system shaped by an individual ontology, having consequences for individuals[grammar?] development, feelings, action and values by cultural association (Hofer & Chasiotis, 2011). There are a number of universal relationships between implicit motives and a person's psychological and behavioural state (Hofer & Chasiotis, 2011). However, fundamental work is still required in this field to determine causation over correlation. Also, future studies need to focus on particular implicit motives such as affiliation or power to have a more targeted study. If a prediction of behaviour is desired, especially within cultures the focus needs to be on implicit motives in cross-cultural studies over explicit motives.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Implicit motives are a form of motivation that lies in the unconscious and drives people. Implicit motives is a large class of motivation that includes achievement, affiliation and power according to McClelland's Theory of Needs, and autonomy, competence and relatedness from the Self Determination Theory, and more. There is a lot of research and theories in this area. These findings suggest that some of these are universal such as physiological needs, but people are unique when it comes to the degree in which a person experiences a particular implicit motive. While we are all unique, our implicit motives connect us.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Ball, A., Wolf, C. C., Ocklenburg, S., Brune, M., Wolf, O. T., Gunturkun, O., et al. (2014). The type of implicit motive enactment is modulated by sex hormones in naturally cycling women. Physiological Behaviour, 123(1), 119–126. <>.

Deci, E. L., Eghrari, H., Patrick, B. C., & Leone, D. R. (1994). Facilitating Internalization: The Self‐Determination Theory Perspective. Journal of Personality, 62(1). <>.

Denzingger, F., & Brandstätter, V. (2018). Stability of and Changes in Implicit Motives. A Narrative Review of Empirical Studies. Frontiers in Psychology, 9(777). <>.

Ferguson, M. (2008). On becoming ready to pursue a goal you don’t know you have: Effects of nonconscious goals on evaluative readiness. (2008). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(6), 1268–1294. <>.

Gagńe, M. & Deci, E. L. (2005). Self Determination Theory and Work Motivation. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 26(4), 331-362. <>.

Gawel, J. E. (1996). Herzberg's Theory of Motivation and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Assessment, Research, and Evaluation, 5(11). <>.

Hofer. J., & Chasiotis, A. (2011). Implicit Motives Across Cultures. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 4(1). <>.

Köllner, M. G., & Schultheiss, O. C. (2014). Meta-analytic evidence of low convergence between implicit and explicit measures of the needs for achievement, affiliation, and power. Frontiers in Psychology, 5(826). <>.

McClelland, D. C., Koestner, R., & Weinberger, R. (1989). How Do Self-Attributed and Implicit Motives Differ?. Psychological Review, 96(4), 690-702. <>.

Royle, M. T. & Hall, A. T. (2012). The Relationship Between McClelland's Theory of Needs, Feeling Individually Accountable, and Informal Accountability for Others. International Journal of Management and Marketing Research, 5(1), 21-42. <>.

Schüler, J., Baumann. N., Chasiotis. A., Bender. M., & Baum, I. (2018). Implicit Motives and Basic Psychological Needs. Journal of Personality, 87(1). <>.

Schüler, J., Brandstatter, V., & Sheldon, K. M. (2013). Do implicit motives and basic psychological needs interact to predict well-being and flow?. Motivation and Emotion. 37(3), 480-496. <>.

Schultheiss, O. C., & Brunstein. J. C. (1999). Goal Imagery: Bridging the Gap Between Implicit Motives and Explicit Goals. Journal of Personality, 67(1). <>.

Westen, D. (1999). The Scientific Status of Unconscious Processes: Is Freud Really Dead? Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47(4), 1061–1106. <>.

External links[edit | edit source]